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The Oscar Quest: Best Supporting Actor – 1987

This is a category that’s so awesome that it makes the rest of the year seem better. At least, when you use this as the focal point. 1987 is a year where they got the men right, got the women wrong, and chose a pretty standard/boring (albeit understandable) choice for Best Picture and Best Director. That was The Last Emperor. A big, epic film, very well-made, very engaging, just — a boring choice. It just is. Like Gandhi. You know why it won Best Picture, it’s just a boring choice.

Bernardo Bertolucci winning Best Director for The Last Emperor (as I said here), is a solid choice. Very deserving director. So that’s cool. Goes with the territory. Best Actor was Michael Douglas for Wall Street (talked about here), which, it’s Gordon Gekko, it’s awesome. Obviously. Then Best Actress (talked about here) and Best Supporting Actress were Cher and Olympia Dukakis for Moonstruck. I don’t particularly like either decision. At all, really. Actress more so, just because — why Cher?

But, this category is awesome. It’s rare for a year to have Best Supporting Actor be its strongest category. But this really is the strongest category here. Five solid choices, four worth a vote. And only one clear winner.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR – 1987

And the nominees were…

Albert Brooks, Broadcast News

Sean Connery, The Untouchables

Morgan Freeman, Street Smart

Vincent Gardenia, Moonstruck

Denzel Washington, Cry Freedom

Brooks — Broadcast News is a James L. Brooks film. Pre-2004. Which means you know its of quality. James L. Brooks has made three incredible films — Terms of Endearment, As Good As It Gets and this. I like this least of the three, but that’s kind of like saying “I like Return of the King the least.” You know?

The film is about news people. Holly Hunter is the neurotic, workaholic producer who is completely socially inept yet great at her job. William Hurt is the good-looking, personable, yet dumb-as-nails anchor. And Albert Brooks is the journalist who is good at his ob but not anchor material. And the film is about them. We just follow them. It’s great. I’ll stick with Brooks here, though. He’s the reporter who they send out on those crappy pieces. He goes to dangerous locations and does the taped pieces they play between the studio stuff. He’s good, but he’s not like William Hurt. He can’t anchor, which we see when he gets a shot at the weekend news and sweats profusely during it, making a fool of himself. He’s smart, and capable, and because of that, Holly Hunter respects him and is good friends with him. They’re perfect for each other, career-wise. And he’s in love with her, but she treats him like a gay best friend. And basically, most of the time, he’s there, saying sarcastic things to William Hurt. There’s a great exchange between the two of them where William Hurt is trying to pay him a compliment (because he realize he’s not very bright but really wants to be able to understand the stuff he says on air), and pours his heart out to him, and Brooks is like, “Do you know all the members of the cabinet?” He can’t stop needling him. It’s pretty great.

Anyway, Brooks is really good in the role, and an actor who is very underrated. I can’t vote for him though, because Sean Connery is Sean Connery, and Morgan Freeman is the second choice. Brooks is a third choice, which sucks, because he’s pretty awesome in the film.

Connery — Don’t we all love The Untouchables? Is there anyone who hasn’t seen this film? Don’t tell anyone, if you haven’t. It’s embarrassing.

The film is about Eliot Ness and his group of officers who banded together to take down Al Capone. Kevin Costner, Connery, De Niro as Capone, Andy Garcia, Charles Martin Smith, that creepy guy who plays Frank Nitti who wears the white suit all the time? The Battleship Potemkin homage at the train station. It’s great. How have you not seen this movie?

Everyone knows how awesome Connery is here. He’s got such great scenes. The one one the bridge where he’s walking his beat and sees Costner. “Okay pal, why the mohaska?” I say that shit all the time. I love the way he says “mohaska.” And he gives him the free lesson in police work. “Here endeth the lesson.” And then the great “he sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the fuckin’ morgue! That’s the Chicago way.” Come on, man. Connery is fucking awesome. This movie is awesome. Of course I’m gonna vote for him. He’s Jim Malone. “Just like a wop… brings a knife to a gunfight.”; “You sure the cop’s okay?” “He better be, he’s my cousin.” This is a no-brainer.

Freeman — Street Smart is a film that has a reputation built solely on the performance of Morgan Freeman. Outside of that performance, the film isn’t really all that great. Without Freeman, the film would be utterly forgettable.

Christopher Reeve plays a journalist who is about to get fired. And what he does is, he tries to write one of those down and dirty stories about prostitution. However, he’s very white, and no one will talk to him. So what he does is, he makes it up. He just makes the whole thing up. Creates a fake pimp who is the center of the piece, just creates a character as if he were writing a novel. And the piece goes over huge. Everyone’s congratulating him, and he feels guilty taking all the praise, because — they think it’s real. Problem is — that pimp he made up — Morgan Freeman thinks it’s him. Because, Morgan Freeman just happens to have a lot of the same characteristics of this pimp. So what happens is, Freeman finds Reeve and starts threatening him. He wants to find out how he found out about him, but also wants Reeve to write about him for real.

Meanwhile Freeman is on trial for murder (he attacked a man who was with one of his women and he had a heart attack and died), and the prosecution also thinks Freeman is the guy from the story, so they pressure Reeve to reveal his sources, because, if he does, they can get a conviction. And Freeman obviously wants him to say its not him because he doesn’t want to go to jail. And the pressure begins to mount, and Reeve struggles with doing the right thing and giving up his journalistic credibility — it’s actually a pretty good film for 3/4 of it. Problem is, the last twenty minutes are just so — why? Why do they do it? Basically, Reeve ends up taking Freeman’s errand boy (who he treats the way agents treat personal assistants), and manipulating him into thinking Freeman is going to give him up to the police, and in his fright, he shoots and kills Freeman, thereby giving everything a nice little bow, and giving Reeve a story to report. It feels like a cop out ending.

Freeman, though, is really great in the film. He’s really strong. You can just see it. He’s so charismatic, and manages to layer the character so well. There’s one scene where he plays basketball with a bunch of local guys, and it seems very fun at first, since he’s a big local figure. And he feels like he got fouled, and out of nowhere, he turns into a murderous rage and almost knifes the guy. And then he realizes what just happened (since everyone is not staring at him like, “Dude, chill out, it’s only a game”), so he calms down, pulls out a hundred dollars and tells the guy to go get him some chicken, and to pick up some too for everyone else. That scene is the essence of the character. Freeman is really great. But, he’s up against Sean Connery, and, no matter how good he was, I’m always gonna vote Connery here. 10 times out of 10. Don’t worry, though, Freeman eventually got his Oscar for a lesser role. Isn’t that how it always works with the Academy? (See: Martin Scorsese, Paul Newman, Sean Penn (the first time), Denzel Washington (I love the performance, but, dude was Malcolm X), Al Pacino…)

Gardenia — Vincent Gardenia is an actor I always remember fondly, and yet, I look at his resume, and there are really only two roles he was in that I’d have seen. And oddly enough, both roles, he was nominated for. The first (and better of the two) was Bang the Drum Slowly, where he played the snarky, sarcastic manager of the baseball team. He was awesome. He was like Philip Seymour Hoffman in Charlie Wilson’s War. Comes in, steals scenes, gets laughs, and upstages everyone else. He’s great. Here, he has more of a character. Still steals scenes, but, I didn’t find this as funny as the other performance. Maybe because I don’t like the film.

Let’s get this out of the way now. I grew up around an Italian family in Brooklyn. I lived with these people. To watch this movie — I can’t do it. I’m very sensitive to seeing Italian families portrayed on film for two reasons. One, because, it’s usually very stereotyped. And two because — it embarrasses me. The whole thing embarrasses me. A lot of it has to do with the fact that all the kids I grew up around were very — well, put it this way. This film is rooted in reality and has an added layer of embellishment to it. But the layer of reality is enough to make me really embarrassed because — I know people like this. And the people I grew up around — that’s how they feel about Jersey Shore. The people on Jersey Shore are embellished to the extreme, but it’s rooted in a certain reality that embarrasses the shit out of the people I grew up around because — to an extent, that’s them. Which I find hysterical. (And is also why I’ll never watch that show. I grew up around those people. I wanted no part of them then, and have less of a desire to watch the minstrel show now.) So, this is all my way of saying — I can never like this movie. Half of it is too embellished and the other half is too similar to stuff I just don’t need to see any more of (after 21 years of it).

The film is about Cher, an accountant, who is seeing Danny Aiello. He’s older than her, but she’s worried she’ll end up alone, so she’s sticking with the relationship even though she doesn’t love him. He proposes, but he’s very superstitious, and believes that if he marries her, his mother will die. He goes to Italy to care for her, two weeks before the wedding. He also has Cher invite his brother to the wedding, whom he hasn’t spoken to in several years. She does, and he’s Nicolas Cage. Cage, admittedly, is the one bright spot of this film for me. He’s just amazing. Anyway, he’s missing one of his hands. It’s been damaged because of an accident with a meat slicer that he blames his brother for (which is why they haven’t spoken). He and Cher start having an affair. And eventually they end up together, because Aiello believes him not marrying Cher is what’s keeping his mother alive. But that’s not what we’re interested in.

Vincent Gardenia plays Cher’s father, married to Olympia Dukakis. He’s having an affair, and she knows about it, but doesn’t say anything. And he’s mostly just there in most scenes and doesn’t really have much to do. But there’s one scene where Cher goes to the opera with Cage, and runs into Gardenia and his mistress. And they both agree to not tell anyone that they saw each other there. That’s pretty funny. And then Dukakis makes him stop seeing the mistress, and they make up, and you know how that goes.

Gardenia is fine in the film, and I like that he was nominated, but — he was never going to win. In fact, he’s a #5 in this category because, one, I don’t like the film that much, and two, everyone else was just better. This is a very strong category, and he just happens to be the weakest.

Washington — Cry Freedom is a film that I was very leery about, going in. The 80s were a decade with a lot of films like this. Social message-type films. Like The Killing Fields. A Dry, White Season. There were a lot of social causes during the 80s. Crime/drugs, the stuf in Cambodia, AIDS, Apartheid — there are a lot of films like this. And I’m not a fan of movies like this. I never was a fan of this stuff. Even contemporary movies that have to do with issues. I just don’t go for them the way other people do. This film, however — I quite enjoyed.

The film is about Kevin Kline as a journalist in South Africa. And he posts these scathing criticisms of Denzel Washington, who is an anti-Apartheid activist. And Washington has Kline meet him, asking why he’s so against him. And Kline thinks Washington is causing riots and leading to more deaths. And Washington shows Kline his side, and Kline eventually becomes his friend and ally. And we see Washington fight for what’s right, and society trying to keep him down, and eventually he’s killed because he’s arrested on a bullshit charge, and is beaten savagely in his cell. And they don’t get him to a doctor, and he dies because of it. And then Kline wants to tell everyone about this (because they cover it up), but then he’s now being targeted by the government, so he has to sneak out (which is a thrilling sequence. Him leaving and having his family meet up with him is the best part of the film) and get to safety so he can report all these crimes. And he does, and it’s revealed, and the film ends with a list of activists who were killed and what the police reported the deaths as (which were revealed over the course of the film to be bullshit cover ups).

It’s a good film. I really enjoyed it. Washington was really strong here. He’s kind of the lead for a while, but then he dies, so, I can see why he was put supporting. But still, he was really strong, and honestly, I thought about voting for him for a good second when I was watching the film. I was always gonna vote for Connery, but Washington was really strong. Though, I did see this before I saw Street Smart. So, I’d say, Washington is like a 3 here, but I bump him down to 4, just because he is a kind of lead, and because he won two years after this in a more appropriate category for him to win. I’m using history to my advantage. Or rather, as rationalization. Either way, I’m still voting for Connery, but Washington (and the film) were really strong.

My Thoughts: There’s no way you don’t vote Sean Connery, even if you didn’t think he was good enough to win. Freeman is second for a vote, Brooks third (despite the rankings). But it’s Connery all the way. That’s the Chicago way.

My Vote: Connery

Should Have Won: Connery

Is the result acceptable?: It’s Sean Connery.

Performances I suggest you see: I feel like The Untouchables is one of those films people see before they become interested in film. You just see it because your parents are watching it, or because you saw a couple of films, and are looking for similar ones — what I’m saying is, this is a film that’s so cross-referenced with so many basic films that everybody loves that I assume everyone’s seen this. It doesn’t even cross my mind that someone hasn’t. This is a film you see, love, and then find out after the fact, “Oh shit, this won an Oscar? That’s awesome.” Which means, if you haven’t seen it, don’t tell anyone, go, find it, and watch it. (Trust me, the rest of us have seen it.) I feel like there’s no one that can dislike this movie. It’s just so good on every level.

Broadcast News is a great film. Jim Brooks, man. Terms of Endearment, As Good As It Gets — I think you realize that you’ll probably enjoy this based on those other two. It’s a great film by a great filmmaker — see it. highly, highly recommended. Such a fantastic film.

Street Smart isn’t very good on the whole — I mean, it’s okay — but Morgan Freeman’s performance is outstanding. He’s just so good here. The film is worth checking out for that alone.

Cry Freedom is a bit overlong, but very engaging and features great performances by Kevin Kline and Denzel. It’s a very worthwhile film. I do recommend watching it.

Moonstruck — yeah. I recognize it’s a good movie, but I can’t recommend it that highly. It’s one of those films you’ll have to see around me. Actually — Cage. That’s my entry point. Cage. Cage is funny in this. See it for Cage. He’s always great.

Rankings:

5) Gardenia

4) Washington

3) Freeman

2) Brooks

1) Connery

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